10 December 2010

Review: Dante's Inferno

Two of the truly great forms of entertainment media we have available to ourselves are literature and video games. Up to this point, few attempts have been made to meld the two forms into one, but this is what Visceral Games attempted to do with Dante's Inferno. Sadly, they fail horrendously in almost every aspect of crafting an experience anywhere near as deep what Dante Alighieri crafted in his masterpiece The Divine Comedies.
Not as holy as he appears

Reading the first of three parts of The Divine Comedies will give the reader an emotional, thought-provoking journey which follows the author in his fictitious adventure through Hell, experiencing all the turmoil such a place is thought to exhibit. Whereas, this video game follows Dante through a series of boss fights with the intent to save his lover, Beatrice, from Lucifer, whom she has fallen under the influence of.

Dante's Inferno starts during the Third Crusade, with Dante being stabbed in the back, whence Death comes for his soul. Dante is told by Death that he will be sent to Hell for his sins, however Dante will not accept this fate because the Bishop told the soldiers of the Crusade that their sins would be absolved for taking part in the war. Fighting Death, Dante acquires Death's scythe and uses it to defeat him. From here, he makes his way home to find his wife and father killed. Here, he witnesses Lucifer drag the soul of his wife, Beatrice, to Hell. Dante then embarks on a journey to save her.

Dante's adventure encompasses exactly what is wrong with Inferno. This is not how is happens in the source material, and his reasons for wanting to save Beatrice are selfish and ungodly, whereas in The Divine Comedies, Dante's journey is often interpreted as an allegory where he becomes closer to God after being saved from thoughts of suicide by Virgil. Everything Dante is doing in the game can only possibly push him further from God. I am not saying the game should have followed the source material word for word, yet there is no reason for even having such great literature as the backdrop, except to profit off of the notoriety of the work. None of the themes of The Divine Comedy are present in this game, only the idea that Hell is bad and the setting of the literature.
Dante's first real obstacle

Dante enters Hell to save his lover Beatrice from the hands of Lucifer. It seems, however, that his motives are not wholly encompassed by his pure love of this woman, but in fact the jealousy brought about by Lucifer taking Beatrice away from him and fondling her in front of him. Also, Dante feels that he still deserves Beatrice even though he cheated on her with a whore in one of the cities he traveled to for the Crusade. Instead of wanting to save Beatrice as an act of selfless love, Dante is more worried about his jealousy and wanting something that he wrongfully views as his.

Not all the criticism of the game need be leveled at the incorporation of the source material neither. The gameplay mechanics of Dante's Inferno are forgettable as well. Dante will literally follow one path, and only one path, all the way through the game with no deviation except into a nook or cranny here. It is so pathetic to find the 'hidden' loot nearly in plain sight. One of the odd mechanics instituted into the game by the developers is hiding things with the camera. What I mean is, the camera is locked on the character and cannot be manually controlled, so the developers like to hide things using this in mind, in places that the camera would not normally see unless you tread just slightly more to the right or left of the beaten path. Instead of coming up with something clever to award players looking out for loot, Visceral Games actually used their crappy camera to obscure collectibles.

When you are not viewing the little amount of the world the developers let you see in this game, you will be fighting the creatures of Hell, which provides at least some redeeming hope to this game. There are many types of creatures in this game, or at least there appeared to be for the first three hours, and then they were recycled (sometimes with armor!) for the rest of the game after each model is introduced.One of the first creatures fought in the game are the usual minions which do not put up a much of a fight. The minions are found throughout the game, but traveling deeper into Hell introduces a new type of minion, one that dashes to and fro, but is still as weak. In one level of Hell, babies with cutting edges as hands become enemies. Yes babies in Hell, and unbaptized babies at that! The thing is, they are introduced in the Limbo stage of the game, yet pop up throughout the rest of the game, unchanged. Why? Hell if I know, but Inferno has very few enemy types. This is a big drawback in this game. Individual character models are quite unique, but there could have been so many more types of enemies if the developers would have used any imagination. Even the enemy designs they have are sometimes used too little. Large, worm-like creatures make an appearance in one section of the game, but are largely unused for the rest of it.

Battling the creatures of Hell is hardly a fun experience, either. One of the ways to attack enemies is not well implemented at all. Near the beginning of the game, a Christian cross is received from Beatrice before Dante leaves for the Crusade. Used as a range weapon, the cross 'shoots' Holiness, damaging enemies. For the most part, the cross is effectively useless, nor is it used often. Enemies are never far enough away to string together combos, so its use is relegated to taking down flying enemies or softening up far away enemies until they move closer. In most cases, the player is fighting hordes of enemies, where cross attacks are useless because the player will be hit by an enemy before they can get off a substantial combo, so it becomes better in these cases to mash attack buttons that use the scythe.
Not as fun as it may look

Fighting enemies with the scythe yanked from Death is somewhat more satisfying, yet it is not implemented well into the game either. There are two standard attacks: light and heavy. Unlike most games, there is no way to meld light and heavy attacks into a combination. One can partake in a string of light attacks followed by heavy attacks, but there is no way to combine them. Inferno handles combo attacks poorly, and in a hack and slash such that Inferno is, this is unacceptable.

Dante's Inferno gets little use out of the timeless source material it is very loosely based on. There is nothing here for anyone looking for a story, neither is the main component of the game, the combat, really up to any decent standard. Dante's Inferno really fails in all ways. Almost any other hack and slash action game is more worthy than this game, which should be avoided at all costs.


19 November 2010

Just Enough Frames Per Second

Gran Turismo 5 is set to release is just a few days and it is set to bring to the table the rare, pinnacle of console gaming, a so-called silky smooth 60 frames per second (FPS). Few others games have achieved this consistently on the so-called next gen consoles (Xbox 360 and PS3), two exceptions being Wipeout HD and Dante's Inferno. My question was, are we missing out on something? Are our cousins who are playing on maxed-out gaming rigs getting a ----------better experience?

To test out whether or not 60 FPS is really all it is cracked up to be and to try a game that has been on my List for a while, I queued up Dante's Inferno for the Xbox 360 to see what all I have been missing technologically from gaming as I do not have a PC capable of playing anything but Diablo at 60 FPS. I was somewhat excited to play a hack and slash for the first time in a while, especially since this game was steeped in a lore I have been vaguely interested in a long time. When the game arrived from Gamefly on Monday, I set aside about an hour to put some time into the game.

First off, the 60 FPS come at a price graphically. Not a steep price, but this game is not beautiful, the environments are not packed with detail, and the art style, the last hope, is somewhat lackluster, but much better than it could have been. With the game running at 60 FPS, I tried to notice if it was more responsive than other games, namely the Castlevania: Lord of the Shadows demo I had recently played which runs, on average, below 20 FPS. I did not notice much of a distance. DI seemed to be just as responsive as most games I have played, but in no way noticeably so. Then, I observed how the action flowed on screen. I attempted to observe if the character movements more fluid or if the action seemed more natural. Again, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Nothing seemed any different, gameplay-wise, between a game running at 60 FPS and one running at 30FPS.

I should mention that although Castlevania: LoS looks absolutely beautiful, there is some slowdown anyone can observe, even in the demo. On the bright side, the game is absolutely gorgeous and most of the technical flaws are masked by the enjoyment I had with the demo. I cannot say how good Castlevania is at this point, but the time I had with the demo left me with a good impression.

I give credit to the developers of Dante's Inferno, Visceral Studios, as the game does what they said it was going to do, namely run at 60 FPS on consoles. However, myself, as a rather technically affiliated video game player did not notice the advantageous, but can not some flaws, such as the poor texture resolutions. I will not say this debate is over, as I could next compare Forza Motorsport 3 to a game like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) and see if there are any differences in those faster paced games. As of now, however, I am unconvinced that graphical fidelity need be sacrificed for FPS.

For a technical perspective on Castlevania: Lord of Shadows, see: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-castlevania-lords-of-shadow-face-off

For a technical perspective on Dante's Inferno, see: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/xbox-360-vs-ps3-face-off-round-24?page=1

16 November 2010

How to Game on the Cheap

Hello everyone, and welcome to my first real article where I will divulge ways by which you can play all the games you want for little to no money. And yes, there are some strings attached, but if you don't need the latest or greatest right now, or if you just want to save some cash in a broken economy, here's how:

    1. Buy Used

At nearly any game store worth half its weight in dog crap, there will be some shelves with a bunch of games on them under a big sign that says "Used." Most anyone who games knows at least that used games exist, though maybe not everyone has ever bought one for some reason or another. Well, if you want to game for cheap, and would like one of the newer releases fast, this is one of the best ways to game: buy used.

There are some problems with buying used however. You are getting a product that for all you know has been sitting under a couch for a month, collecting dust on it, while being kicked across the floor every once in a while. Most of the time, the game you buy will work, sometimes it will not. These sometimes suck. You will want to find out the warranty policy at the store you bought the game at and hope for the best. Sometimes there is a buffer zone of about a month where you can bring it back (with the receipt, of course) and try to get it replaced. This is one of the easier options. Another option is to buy a form of insurance from the store that is placed on the game, thus guaranteeing a free replacement for a certain amount of time (usually around 6-12 months). The price of such a service depends, but at some stores (Game Crazy was a good example), it can be a buck for a game under $25, and somewhere around $3 for games up to $55.

Used copies of the newest titles usually take a while to drop in price, however. A week after release, you will still be paying upwards of $55 dollars and it won't usually get better for a while. However, older releases can usually be found in abundance. So Mass Effect 2 just came out, well, that means Mass Effect 1 has been around for a while, so pick that up instead. Also, games that received only average reviews and/or fared worse than expected will keep getting cheaper, with copies of Two Worlds found to be less than $5 dollars at some stores (new).

    2. Online Retailers and Auction Sites

In this day and age, if you play video games, you probably know what the Internet is and how to use it. Thus, you probably know what Amazon.com is and have made a bid or two on Ebay.com. Both places have games, and they have them in abundance, however, they operate in two different manners.

Amazon is like a Walmart, but online and almost just as cheap. In fact, Amazon probably has a larger inventory than Walmart and has sells just as often, if not more so. Video game-wise, Amazon is much better though. You can pick up any game from the current generation of consoles, pre-order upcoming releases (to be discussed in a second), and browse some awesome deals. Amazon is known for their 'Gold Box deals' where you can get a relatively new release at an insanely low price (imagine getting a game that came out a month ago for $25, yes, that insane). Amazon's gold box deal page can be found here.

Ebay on the other hand is an auction site where normal people like you and me post there used/new stuff and try to make some money on it. Once signed up for the site, you can begin bidding on whatever you want in the hopes of winning. Ebay would be a better site to find used games on, games for old systems (NES or Dreamcast), or totally insane deals on new games that will not last that long, thus, it is a little more specialized and you may not always find what you want because it depends on what people have and are willing to sell, whereas Amazon has a consistent supply of inventory. Also, some people are scammers on Ebay, so that brings up a whole nother area to cover, something beyond the scope of this post: Internet safety.

    3. Trade/Borrow Games

Not only can you buy used games at brick-and-mortar stores, you can trade-in your crappy/old games for store credit towards other games. There is only one problem with this: unless you are trading a big name release in soon after launch, you will be lucky to get one-half of what the game is worth. Still, if you never want to see the game again and have some money to spend towards a new release, this is a great way to get a new release cheap, or to get a somewhat older game for next-to-nothing. Consult your local game stores for there policy because said policies vary a lot, sometimes even between stores in the same chain.

Someone else may want to trade or even borrow games with you  your friends. Tons of people play games nowadays, and in all likelihood so do yours friends and you know it. I don't even think this needs much explanation, but ask your friends if they are willing to let you play one of their awesome new games if you have a game they want to play. Both sides win here!

    4. Go to the Library

I know, you want to get to the library, but can't. You were going to read The Borthers Karamov, but first there was Uncharted 2, then Mass Effect 2, God of War 3, Final Fantasy XIII, yadayaddayadda. Now that the big barrage of games is over, go to the library and check out what they have in stock. No, I am not talking about literature, I am talking about games! Yes, libraries across the nation (and world) now carry games Depending on where you live, you may be able to take out the game for a week or more, and sometimes for absolutely free! Good stuff here, man. There is nothing you can say about getting to try a game out for free for a week or two, nothing. Unless, of course, you forget to take the game back and the library charges you a HUGE fine.

    5. Wait

This is assuredly the hardest one to do, but one of the best ways to get games for cheap. Just wait until the price goes down. I would somewhat include waiting for sales, but sales can be sporadic and do not usually include all games available in a store. Over time, any games price will go down. I bought Mass Effect 2 in May for $30 from Game Stop bran new, just because I waited. Yea, sometimes it is fun getting the latest and greatest game to come out, but it will not put your experience in detriment if you just wait awhile either and get the game for less money.

    6. Indie Games

If you have either PSN, Xbox Live, or Steam, you have access to a ton of games that are a lot less mainstream, but sometimes just as good as the latest blockbuster, and cheaper. Find the section for Indie games in your program of choice, and slap down $10 bucks to have a jolly good time. Trials HD, Limbo, and Tomb Raider: Guardian of the Light, all critically acclaimed games that you could sink hours of time into for less than $20. Sometimes it is hard to find information on indie games as they do not get the press they deserve, but it is easier to take a chance on a $10 game than it is a $60 one.

    7. Good Old Games

All the games worth playing on your PC or Mac are available in one handy place for $10 or less. Go to Good Old Games, browse their selection and play the greats for cheap. Did I mention the games are DRM-free? GOG has a large library of PC games from the somewhat obscure to  the big-time players like Baldur's Gate, and the site adds 'new' games all the time. The best thing about the games is that they are optimized to play on the new operating systems and will run great on any computer bought in the past 10 years, for the most part. Although niche, because they focus on old games, you still get to play for cheap, and most of these games hold up well to this day.

    8. Gamefly

Gamefly is like Netflix, but for games. Open an account on the main site, start up a queue of games you want to play, and the next available release is sent to you. There are multiple tiers of service, starting with the cheap one where you can have one game out at a time, all the way up to a plan that allows you to have up to 4 games out at once. The service is however limited to console gaming, with the original Xbox and PS2 included. PC games are not planned on being added either because of the necessity to install the game on the hard drive with a key.

Now this list is not intended to be all-encompassing, but if I missed any major topics, please contact me and let me know.

15 November 2010

Mission Statement

If you want to play video games, you need money. A brand new game costs $60 from a brick and mortar store while the Internet has offers for new games for slightly less. I am not here to talk about games that are just releasing for the most part. I am here to explore the industry from a standpoint of a broke gamer, one of which I am. This means I will be focusing on games I can buy at a budget price. I will not necessarily be talking about old, crappy games, or indie games, or anything really in particular (though I do have my own set of preferences which I look for when buying a game), but I will talk about games that are very cheap, good, and worth talking about. 

I hope to start writing articles soon, see you then.